Being an undertaker is never easy when the dead can kill you.
Darria Savege is an undertaker's assistant. When her boss is killed, she assumes the job of undertaker and all the strange things that go with it. She awakens a mummified hand named Omar. She works with a grim reaper named Oliver who collects the souls of the bodies she works on. New and strange powers awaken within her. A dark necromancer is after something in her morgue.
All she has to do is avoid being killed by him or by some of the bodies she works on. But that's not the real dilemma. Medusa is trying to get out of purgatory and turn the world to stone, and Darria is the only one who can stop her.
Darria ran her fingers over the porcelain cup, sipped at her coffee, and made a face. The acrid taste overpowered her senses. Her boss preferred it strong, so she made it that way for him. Mr. Archer sat across from her at the white-and-yellow, speckled, Formica kitchen table in the house where he lived and worked. Maple syrup covered his plate from the pancake breakfast she had made him. Hers remained half eaten. Normally, she enjoyed blueberry flapjacks, but she had been unable to shake the dread that followed her from her dreams. She stifled a yawn and took another sip of her coffee, hoping it would help get her motivated for work.
“You should head down to the basement soon, Darria.” Her boss turned another page of the paper.
“I’ll go set up in a minute.” She squashed a blueberry with her fork.
“What’s on your mind?”
“When are you going to train me?”
He folded the paper and placed it on the table. “We’ve been over this before. You signed on knowing I’d teach you when it was time.”
“I know. But—”
“I understand you’re frustrated. I haven’t shown you what I actually do to the bodies. It’s the way I and other undertakers before me were taught.”
“What’s so secretive about it? Can’t you break the tradition of great undertakers before you? Let me in on a little more than what I already know?” Darria yearned to do more than the menial tasks he assigned her.
“I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll do this body and then you can shadow me on the next corpse. Okay?”
Jubilation rose within her chest and caught in her throat. Darria fought the urge to hug her employer. “That would be wonderful. Thank you, Mr. Archer.”
“You’re welcome, dear. Now go downstairs and set up the workroom.”
Darria hid her smile. A bit of movement from the newspaper caught her eye. She peered at the front page. Below the headline about a declining stock market was the image of a teenage boy. The boy blinked and scowled at her. She jumped, and her knee slammed against a table leg. Her plate hit the edge of the table and crashed onto the floor.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Darria glanced at him and back at the paper. The photograph returned to normal. She shook her head, trying to clear the disturbing vision. “S-sorry. Thought I saw a spider.” She grabbed a rag to clean up the mess on the floor.
Mr. Archer knelt down and touched her arm. His warm smile relaxed her. “I’ll do that. You head downstairs. I’ll make sure the spider’s dead.”
She turned back around. “Yeah.”
“Do you know why I take care of the bodies?”
“It’s your job.”
“Yes. It’s my job. One day, it will also be yours. However, I do it because there are many things in the world that most people don’t see. We’re the lucky ones who get to see the other side. Do you know what I mean?”
“I do.” Where’s this coming from? He never opens up. A chill trickled along her back.
“Good. Then you understand that the most important thing we do is handle the dead so they won’t cause any more trouble. And we make sure the objects in the Wunderkammer are secured. They could do more damage if they were left out in public.”
She nodded. It’s about time the old man revealed what he does. Mr. Archer sat back at the table and read the paper again. Darria opened the basement door and went down the steps. His words echoed in her mind about keeping people safe. If anything got free, then havoc would ensue, and people would be in danger. Darria opened the heavier, second door at the bottom of the staircase that separated the cellar from the rest of the house. At last, Abner would show her exactly what he did, and that satisfied her. His words made sense. The levity of what he did settled in her mind. He helped protect others.
She slipped on her apron and then set up the tools Mr. Archer used on his roll-around tray. From right to left, they were: pliers, a wrench, a blowtorch, a stake, a mallet, a silver scalpel, and forceps. An open spot remained for the last implement she needed.
A corpse lay on the steel table in the center of the workroom. This one looked normal enough, with blonde hair perfectly arranged around her head. The green smear of eyeshadow on her lids matched her dress. Slightly marred, pink lipstick stuck to the woman’s teeth. Her emerald dress showed off her curves and covered her legs down to her calves. One of her black pumps was missing. However, the bullet hole in the center of her forehead was a dead giveaway that she was, well...dead. Faint curls of black smoke billowed from the wound, where the silver bullet reacted with the cadaver’s flesh.
It was tough to believe this woman could turn into a ferocious beast on the full moon. Trying to picture her on all fours covered with fur brought back memories of the bad horror movies Darria had watched as a child. Silver could hurt or kill them. This was one of the varieties of creatures that passed through the undertaker’s cellar to be processed.
The remainder of the instruments were kept under lock and key, and she guarded that key with her life. Darria trailed her fingers over the inked form on the inside of her right elbow. The sleek lines of the ink defined the shapes in her tattoo. Darria played her fingers over the outline of the key until a violet shimmer appeared on her flesh. The key became solid and fell into her palm. The metal warmed as she held it. When she had accepted the job, the undertaker gave her a normal brass key she could have picked up at any hardware store.
Darria ran her finger over the three arches on the top of the key. A surge of energy arced along her skin, causing the small hairs to rise along her arm. It gave the ravens etched into her flesh an amethyst hue. It was nice to take a moment to admire the simple symmetry of her job and the responsibilities that went with it.
The body waited for the undertaker to perform his duties. Then she would clean up. Rolling her shoulders, Darria Savege gazed around the room. Shrubs blocked off the cellar windows. A desk and an ancient gray filing cabinet sat off to her left. The large, stainless steel table was the centerpiece of the room. On the far wall was the curio cabinet. Her boss called it a Wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities. The countless oddities on its shelves kept her guessing from where and when they had originated.
A shrunken head stared at her with an expression of utter fear frozen on its sewed lips. A long, black braid curled around its neck stump. A two-headed fetus with a horn sprouting from one head and a hoof for a left foot floated in a jar. An array of bottles and other Mason jars bursting with indiscernible things lined the top shelf. No matter how intense her curiosity, Darria dared not pull the containers out. Different kinds of human skulls lined the second shelf. One resembled a human but for the long, curved canines, suggesting it might have been a vampire. Old-time medical instruments were on the third shelf. The fourth was a mishmash of oddities. A stained red, carved elephant tusk and a foot-long, spiraled, golden-brown horn that her boss said came from a unicorn, a pinboard filled with numerous insects, and a few other things she had no name for. The most important object in the whole collection was in a beat-up, black, tin box that looked like it had been kicked around a schoolyard one too many times.
Darria slid the key into the lock and turned it. The doors did not want to unlock at first.
“Come on,” she said the to the curio cabinet. “You gotta open up. Mr. Archer’s going to be pissed if you decide to be stubborn.”
It felt as though the large piece of furniture was staring at her, deciding if she was worthy. It might have been fashioned of wood and glass, but sometimes, Darria thought it had consciousness. She couldn’t explain it, but the Wunderkammer had a mind of its own. Darria jiggled the key to make sure it wasn’t stuck. She turned it again. This time, the doors decided to open.